Food Day + Hospital Food Service

Last week, Monday, October 24, was the “first” annual Food Day.  In case you didn’t hear, Food Day (sponsored by CSPI) is meant for everyone who eats, and the purpose is “to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.”  Institutions across the country changed their menus for the day, and special speakers and events were scheduled in most major cities.

At the hospital I am interning at, there were a few special events – a local CSA had a table in the cafeteria, with a beautiful display of produce and encouraging people to sign up. There were special menu items, featuring more whole foods/meatless options (more than normal Mondays).  This hospital already practices “mostly” Meatless Mondays, meaning that the hot entrees are all vegetarian, and all specials (pizza, grill) are vegetarian.  The “standard” items at the grill/sandwich bar/etc are still present, but there are many more vegetarian options.

But then…on Tuesday, everything went back to “normal.”  How do we make the principles of Food Day a daily change versus an annual (or weekly, if Meatless Monday is observed) event?  In other words, how does a conscientious eating pattern become normalized?  And how does one encourage people to make changes at home?

During the past few months, I have been wondering about the role of hospital food service in promoting long-term healthy eating.  I recognize that many of the patients who are in the hospital are having trouble keeping their weight stable (e.g. they have unintentionally lost 50# in the past 1-2 months due to failure to thrive/cancer/etc) and many times are malnourished. I’m all for pushing the Scandishakes (900 kcal!) and Ensure to these patients, because of the caloric density and improved outcomes for the patient if they don’t keep losing weight.  But…what about the standard meals offered?  The “regular”/standard menu has an average of 4g of sodium/day, which is much higher than the recommended 1.5-2g sodium/day.  How do you balance making sure people eat when they are very ill, and providing the healthiest meals possible?  And how does one do this in mass production?

Patients at this hospital can typically eat a very balanced diet according to the Plate Method (half plate veggies, one-fourth protein source, one-fourth whole grains) if they make the proper menu selections. When I was entering in the menus, however, many of the patients were not doing that – most were not selecting vegetables, and most opted for the cake/pie (in the hospital’s defense, the dessert slice is literally about 3 bites) instead of the fresh fruit for dessert. The MyPlate image is even printed on the paper menus!  And for the pediatrics floors — is it okay to have hamburgers/french fries/hot dogs/chips/soda/etc on the menu, if it ensures that kids (who, remember, are in the hospital because they are very ill) are eating?  Is this making the assumption that kids will not eat healthier alternatives?

What are your thoughts?  Did you do anything to celebrate Food Day?